ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. — St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office deputies are now wearing body cameras as a new tool to fight crime and to create transparency during arrests. They join a list of local agencies that have already implemented the technology.
Action News Jax’s Ben Becker is the first local reporter to obtain body camera video of any kind from the agency.
The video shows the arrest of David Alan Armstrong, 36, who was taken into custody in April on charges of murdering his wife. He has pleaded not guilty.
Then the video reveals deputies putting on gloves, going through Armstrong’s backpack and driving him away to jail.
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SJSO said it started issuing body cameras in mid-March and completed the initial rollout by mid-April. It said it finished a body camera pilot program two years ago, raising the question: What took so long?
“It takes time to do this,” Action News Jax Law and Safety Expert Dale Carson said. “It’s prudent for departments to have the most advanced cameras possible. You don’t want a system that’s going to fail or work intermittently.”
Action News Jax first reported in 2021 about a deadly deputy-involved shooting in Fruit Cove. Although the deputy fired one shot, the medical examiner said the shooting was suicide when the suspect turned a gun on themselves.
The death raised questions at the time if the incident and would encourage SJSO to outfit their deputies with body cameras.
SJSO Inside the Numbers:
Cameras issued: 343
Cost: $413,000 per year including all hardware, software, and data storage
Recordings: Categorized by type of crime
Video: Kept from 90 days to forever, Per Florida law
According to the most recent numbers from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, 115 police departments use body cameras versus 117 that do not. The numbers are about as evenly split for Sheriff’s Offices, with 34 using body cameras and 33 choosing not to use them.
Most departments in Northeast Florida have body camera video, with the exceptions being St. Augustine Beach, Atlantic Beach, Jacksonville Beach, and the Clay County Sheriff’s Office.
Becker requested an interview with St. Johns County Sheriff Robert Hardwick about the body cameras but was told he wants to hold off, “so we have some time under our belt with them and the implementation process.”
But in 2020, when Hardwick was the Chief of the St. Augustine Beach Police Department, he pushed back against the use of body cameras in an interview with Action News Jax.
“It’s not just about let’s knee-jerk and then put cameras in our officers because Jacksonville is doing it,” Hardwick said at the time.
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Carson said while the video isn’t always dynamic, it can be a difference-maker in how arrests are made.
“Those protocols have to be wel- established so transparency isn’t opaque,” he said.
The Sheriff’s Office said it expects to issue more cameras during a second phase to those in administrative or undercover roles, but a timeline has not been decided.